Hang on, this might be a little confusing. There are two churches in Venice with this name, and this is the one on the Zattere, that great waterfront promenade in Dorsoduro, not the one also known as La Pieta (or the Vivaldi church) that’s on the Riva degli Schiavoni in Castello.
And to make it even more confusing, this church was known as the Gesuati until the Dominicans built the larger church next door which took the name (and the best art), but the Gesuati (Santa Maria del Rosario) should not be confused with the Gesuiti (Santa Maria Assunta), another big white Baroque church up in Cannaregio. Whew!
Anyway, the photo above shows the Zattere, with this Santa Maria della Visitazione on the left and the larger Gesuati to the right. The first church on the locale was built in the early 1400’s by the Jesuate order from Siena and was dedicated to St. Jerome (San Girolamo dei Gesuati). The church was rebuilt in 1493-1524 and rededicated to Our Lady of the Visitation (which refers to Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist).
It’s a pretty little Renaissance church, though no one is quite sure who the architect was; both Mauro Condussi and Tuilio Lombardo are given credit for at least parts of the design. The Jesuate order also built a monastery with several cloisters beside and behind the church. The order was suppressed in 1668, and the Dominicans took over the complex and soon decided they needed a larger church. Instead of demolishing the smaller church, they built next door and left the older church standing, which is pretty unusual for Venice.
For a while, the old church was a library and then the entire religious complex was suppressed by the French in the early 19th century. Santa Maria della Visitazione eventually reopened as a church and today, it’s the oratory for the Istituto Don Orione, who have turned the monastery into a conference center and “modern” religious guest house with free Wifi in the open air cloisters. I met some folks who had stayed there, and they said that it’s quite nice, spartan but clean, and fairly inexpensive considering its primo location on the Zattere. The Institute's website has a partial aerial view and also some nice shots of the cloisters. The photo to the left shows a sculpture of Don Orione that's inside the church.
There was no one in attendance when I visited this church; instead, there was a sign saying “You’re being monitored by video camera.” So modern! It’s a sweet little place. Its best painting, a gorgeous Tintoretto “Crucifixion,” has been moved to the bigger church, but it’s worth going in this one to look at the wooden coffered ceiling – a nice Tuscan (or Umbrian) Renaissance work with little portraits of 58 saints and prophets and a medallion of the Visitation in the center.
This church has a “bocca di leone” on its façade; this one is where people could lodge their complaints about sanitation problems.
These nice monks are on the church's entrance:
To visit this church
8-12, 3-6 daily
Painting below by Rubens Santoro (1859 -1942)
S. Maria della Visitazione and S. Maria del Rosario, Venice